Hats Off to the Einstein Grads

On The Go

By Masha Leon

Published June 18, 2009, issue of June 26, 2009.
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“MY GRANDDAUGHTER, THE DOCTOR!” AN ALBERT EINSTEIN GRADUATION CEREMONY

On June 2, my granddaughter, Michelle Cohen, was one of the graduates of the Class of 2009 of Albert Einstein College of Medicine — a personal simkha (joy) that was part of a global celebration. The 200 new medical doctors  “hooded” on the stage of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall included 40 individuals from 19 countries, and 23 students who, it was noted, “belong to groups considered underrepresented in medicine.” But why so many wailing, kvetching babies in the audience? By the ceremony’s end, annoyance turned to laughter and applause as, one by one, doctoral candidates mounted the stage with babies in arms or with little girls in bouffant dresses and toddlers with teeny yarmulkes in tow. One doctor came onstage clutching infant twins in her arms. From the audience, a few “mazel tovs!” A historic highpoint was the introduction of members of Albert Einstein’s first (1959) graduating class, which included three women. Taken from its college profile and May 20 news release, since its beginning, it was noted,, “Einstein has been open to students of all races and creeds — something vitally important to the renowned physicist and humanitarian Albert Einstein, who lent his name to the College of Medicine in 1953…. It was the first class that welcomed Jewish students who were denied admission to top-tier schools because of their religious affiliation.” In a video of that first class, Dr. Evelyn Schwaber, a 1959 graduate, recalls: “The admissions committee at Einstein spoke to me as a serious applicant without introducing the [then] gender-related questions: What if I get married? Will I really finish school?” Schwaber practices and teaches psychiatry and psychoanalysis in Massachusetts.

On Stage: Lainie Kazan performed at the event.
Karen Leon
On Stage: Lainie Kazan performed at the event.

Following the processional of Einstein faculty, led by Grand Marshall Dr. Stephen Alzar, assistant dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, were welcoming remarks by Dr. Allen Spiegel, Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine and vice president of medical affairs at, Yeshiva University; greetings by Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University; invocation by Rabbi Elie Abadie of Edmond J. Safra Synagogue of New York, and the singing of the national anthem. An academically gowned faculty presenter of diplomas apologized — in advance — for possibly mispronouncing of the names of some of the students. He need not have worried. The Nigerian family to my left, the mother wearing an intricately folded headscarf; the extended Filipino family next to me; the Chinese parents and siblings behind me, and the Russian families across the aisle were shouting and jumping for joy as their son, daughter, niece, nephew — for most, the first doctor in the family — was “hooded.”

In her commencement address, “People First,” Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, homed in on the issue of the “responsibility of today’s doctors and medical researchers to understand and advance the health of all citizens globally.” The literature on Einstein informs that it is “home to 2,000 faculty members, 750 M.D. students, 350 Ph.D. students and 380 postdoctoral investigators, with major research centers which include diabetes, cancer, liver disease and AIDS.” And it is also “concentrating its efforts to include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities.”

What I found particularly moving was when all the graduates — like their predecessors — were asked to stand and recite the “Prayer of Maimonides.” In unison. they averred: “I begin once more my daily work. Be Thou with me, Almighty Father of Mercy, in all my efforts to heal the sick. For without Thee, a human being is but a helpless creature, grant that I may be filled with love for my art and for my fellow women and men, may the thirst for gain and the desire for fame be far from my heart. For these are the enemies of pity and the ministers of hate…. That I may be able to restore the strength of the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the friend and the foe…. May there never rise in me the notion that I know enough, but give me the strength and leisure and zeal to enlarge my knowledge, our work is great and the human mind presses forward forever. Thou has chosen me in thy grace to watch over the life and death of thy creatures. I am about to fulfill my duties. Guide me in the immense work so that it may be of avail.” In unison. the students then recited the universal Hippocratic Oath. Mazel tov!


SAVE LIVES: THE GIVE KIDS A SHOT — NATIONAL MENINGITIS ASSOCIATION GALA

The imperative of almost every “disease” event I cover is: “Let’s find a cure!” Not so with meningitis, which often kills or leaves its victims crippled for life. A simple, safe vaccination is the answer — a shot given to everyone in the military! The alternative was evident at the May 12 National Meningitis Association “Give Kids a Shot!” Gala at the Rainbow Room, at which three young victims — amputees — were honored: Melanie Benn, John Kach and Nick Springer. Also honored was Dr. Nancy Snyderman, chief medical editor at NBC News, who helped propel meningitis into national awareness on a “20/20” report a decade ago, and Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Snyderman touted Offit: “He has protected the lives of millions of children.” Offit responded: “We are not motivated by statistics — 300 deaths a year — when we think about people. There is no price we can put on human suffering and human life.” The event was hosted by TV, Broadway and film actor Richard Thomas. Lainie Kazan, who got her start as Barbra Streisand’s understudy in “Funny Girl” on Broadway, performed a medley of golden oldies. Among the guests were Ambassador John Loeb; Liv Ullmann, and Broadway producer (“The 39 Steps”) and theater (The Palace) owner Stewart Lane and his wife, Bonnie Comley.

Olivia Springer told the crowd, “This could have been prevented.” Her brother, Nick Springer, was 14 years old at summer camp when he fell ill in August 1999 and was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis. Doctors put him in a drug-induced coma for two months, during which he had undergone partial amputations of both of his arms and legs. In September 2008, Nick competed as a member of the U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team in the Paralympics in Beijing, winning a Gold Medal. He’s finishing his senior year in college. “There is one devastating disaster that hits children that can be prevented by a simple vaccine,” he told the guests. “Before you go to camp. Before you go to college…. The army gets the shots…. Vaccinate!”

Model-stunning Melanie Bell was home from college in December 1995 when she came down with what was thought to be the flu. It was deadly meningitis. To save her life, all her limbs were partially amputated, followed by additional surgeries. She went through months of rehabilitation, finished college, got her master’s degree and is now a clinical social worker. In 2000, she won silver and bronze medals for swimming in the Paralympic Games in Australia and the 2004 Paralympics Games in Athens, Greece.

John Kach was a college freshman in March 2000, when a high fever sent him to the emergency room. There he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease caused by meningococcal meningitis. Near death for weeks, he lost his right leg below the knee and all his fingers. He later had his left leg amputated for a better quality of life. Kach graduated college, and now he owns his own computer business and is a public speaker.

The award was established in memory of Nancy Ford Springer (Nick Springer’s mother), who recently lost her life to cancer. The event was co-chaired by New York public relations and press representative Gary Springer, Nick Springer’s father.

The National Meningitis Association, a not-for-profit organization, was formed in 2002 by parents whose children have died or live with permanent disabilities from meningitis. Like so many families affected by the disease, they were unaware of a vaccine that could have saved their children’s lives or prevented their anguish. They want to get the message across that “adolescents and college students are at increased risk for getting meningococcal meningitis” and that symptoms may include “high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion. nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, rash.”


ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINE “SPIRIT OF ACHIEVEMENT” LUNCHEON

“Once you’ve had cancer… you sleep a little easier knowing Albert Einstein is on the case,” said breast cancer survivor Cynthia Nixon, an honoree at the April 28 Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s National Women’s Division New York Chapter’s “Spirit of Achievement” luncheon, held at The Pierre. A Tony and Emmy-winning actress best known as Miranda in the HBO series “Sex and the City” and its movie sequel, Nixon spoke of her mother and other family “females with medical issues,” saying how grateful she is for Einstein’s Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center “with its primary emphasis on women’s health.” Luncheon co-chair Andrea Stark introduced honoree Wolf Blitzer with, “He calls his grandmother bubbe, a Holocaust survivor, every day.” Citing all the challenges facing “President Obama in his first 100 days,” Blitzer, host of CNN’s “The Situation Room,” concluded, “The next 100 days are even more important… if he can deliver.” Janet Wallach, president emeritus of Seeds of Peace, was given the Lizette H. Sarnoff Award for Volunteer Service, and Dr. Robert Marion, director of CERC, was honored for spearheading a new clinical research program that would lead to cures for children with autism and other developmental disorders, and hope for their families.

CERC provides comprehensive state-of-the-art evaluation, diagnostic and treatment services annually for 7,000 children who suffer from autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, hearing impairments, language and learning disabilities and other severe developmental disorders. A nationally recognized model in its field, it annually trains 1,000 health care professionals and has the only adult literacy program that provides ongoing treatment to adults living in New York who suffer from learning disabilities. Wallach’s late husband, John Wallach, a foreign correspondent and son of Holocaust survivors, founded Seeds of Peace following the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, “to stop the cycle of violence.” (He died in 2002.) Sarnoff honoree Wallach stressed, “We need to teach kids about the other side of ‘the other.’ Before you make peace with the enemy, you have to go at war with yourself….” For the past 16 years, Wallach said, “Seeds of Peace has brought together outstanding teenagers from the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other conflict-torn regions to SOP camp in Maine, where they are given the opportunity to see the face of the enemy.” She said, “Currently, on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation team, there is an Israeli ‘Seed’ and a Palestinian ‘Seed.’”

Founded in 1953, the National Women’s Division of the College of Medicine has raised, to date, more than $100 million in support of biomedical research and medical education programs at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The Spirit of Achievement Awards Luncheon, held annually in New York City, has honored individuals in the fields of philanthropy, the arts, business, government and journalism. At its first luncheon in 1954, the honorees included Marlene Dietrich and her daughter, Maria Riva. Among the following years’ roster of honorees were Ruth Bunche, Pearl Buck, Anne Bancroft, Helena Rubinstein, Helen Hayes, Rachel Carson, Oveta Culp Hobby, Gertrude Berg, Marilyn Horne, Lena Horne, Gloria Steinem and the now very-much-in-the news “Queen of Philanthropy,” Brooke Astor. The luncheon’s master of ceremonies was Willie Geist, co-host of MSNBC’s weekly “Morning Joe.”






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